Is This Project Worth Doing Anymore? Composing, 11/10/2013

A very personal post today. I started Adam Writes Everything as a way to feel better about myself. My life since 2012 has been very difficult for me, really ever since I lost my old mentor, Jim Bradley, to cancer. I haven't faced nearly the problems that most people do in their lives, in frequency or intensity. But I've found it hard. And I've felt depressed a lot more in the last 18 months than I have since childhood.

There were some days where I just didn't feel like doing anything. After I finished my doctorate, for a regular paycheck, I took a part-time job at an answering service, thinking I could work 20 or so hours there each week and be able to continue my research. My old department at McMaster even hired me back for the Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 semesters as a teaching assistant because they were so impressed with my work (and they needed the extra hand, with graduate program enrolment declining due to the recession). But I was so good at the answering service job that I was put on a full time schedule that ate most of my mornings and my whole weekends. Combined with my teaching duties, I was working 70-80 hours most weeks, and I was foolish and inexperienced enough to think I could handle it while keeping up my philosophical research and writing. I loved my teaching work, and I liked everyone I worked with at the answering service, finding it hard not to respond positively to a small business run by admirable people who put so much more faith in me than in some of their other employees, who (yes, I'm about to make this joke) phoned it in. After almost a year, I was burning out and falling behind on the work that was most important to me. My contract with McMaster was finished in April, and my last day at the answering service was May 29, the day before I flew to Victoria for the Canadian Philosophical Association.

The Victoria CPA was the last time I ever felt like I was treated as a genuine colleague. I'll admit that I dropped the ball a little at the conference by spending more time reconnecting with my cousin, a University of Victoria music professor, and my old friends that I don't always get a chance to see, than the proper post-grad activity of networking and looking for leads. The truth is, I've never been very good at self-advancement networking, and have always preferred to make an impact through displaying my work instead. Whenever I visit my old department now, I feel as though people wonder what I'm still doing there. Like a lot of recently graduated PhDs, I'm still looking for work. It feels pitiable, and that's not good.

You can probably tell that this post breaks my "No Complaining" rule that I laid out at the beginning. But an argument over my original 11/10/2013 post sparked its deletion and my reconsidering some of the rules of the blog, as well as its existence. Because I didn't just start this blog as a way to share some of my thoughts with the world. I was inspired by my friends Phil Sandifer of TARDIS Eruditorum and JEM of Vaka Rangi, two underemployed academics like me who've started blogs that are inspirationally fantastic pieces of work. They're endeavours that grew from their professions, which have been entertaining and important to me, especially over the last year. I came up with a concept that I thought could connect to people too: I'd write something every day to do with my philosophical or fiction work, maybe slowly pick up something like a following. At the very least, it would encourage me to do something with myself. There were days when I really needed something to jolt me into activity.

My original post today was a reconsideration of some aspects of Colin McGinn's sexual harassment allegations, in the light of an article on Slate by Katie Roiphe. My original take was that this was a textbook case of an older, established professor abusing his position of power to manipulate a female graduate student less than half his age. Roiphe's article and research made me re-evaluate the situation: my thoughts now are that it's more of a disgusting perversion of what should have been a friendly and professional mentorship into a grotesque psycho-sexual swampland. But my blanket condemnation with McGinn was now gone, because enough doubt had been raised in my mind as to his actual motivations. Maybe he had deluded himself into believing that he was an exception to the power dynamics to which all professors have to pay attention. The truth was, I didn't know anymore. So I took my new interpretation of the McGinn scandal and used it as a brief meditation on the value of mentorship when it's done right, and included a short, very personal, paragraph at the end about my very beneficial mentorship from Jim.

"When I was accepted to start the PhD program at McMaster, one person I could thank more than anyone else was my old professor at Memorial, Jim Bradley, who was an important guide to helping me find my philosophical voice and direction. One thing I looked forward to about finishing my dissertation was being able to send Jim a copy (I knew he’d read it within a day or two; that was just his average speed), and when I next visited Newfoundland, we could sit in his study with a bottle of wine (or seven) and talk about it together. Jim died of cancer at 64 on 17 May 2012. The day of my dissertation defence was 5 October 2012. I’ll always regret that we never got to talk one more time."

I can't re-read that paragraph without a tear slipping out. I'll always miss him.

Back to the McGinn situation. Because I had stepped back from my earlier blanket condemnation, my friend's partner posted a sarcastic reply on my facebook wall, calling my attention to another article critical of Roiphe's writing in general and her new take on McGinn in particular. I read the article, and saw its point. But I was upset that she would condemn me for stepping back from my earlier conclusion, especially over a post that tried to find some positivity in the situation: some thoughts on my own much happier mentorship under Jim Bradley. I wrote her an angry message back, and within about ten minutes, they were no longer my friends. I doubt we'll speak again. She said she hopes I never get a job, because she's certain that I'll abuse my power to harass and manipulate female students. 

They weren't the first friends I lost because of this blog, but he especially was one I didn't want to lose. I had opened up to him earlier this summer about some very sensitive parts of my childhood circumstances, and I feel betrayed. The post wasn't my best in terms of writing, but I still don't think I deserve condemnation. Maybe I'm wrong about that. There are some people in my life whose support I truly value, and one who appeared a few months ago who may be the best thing to happen to me in years. But today, doubt is clawing at me.

I need to go for a long walk.


  1. Please don't quit your blog.

    If you've been able to keep this up over any period of depression, PLEASE keep writing. I've been struggling with trying to keep writing over the past couple of years, and my D. has been my biggest enemy. Most days I'm left wondering if I even have a voice left. Often I feel like I'm just filled up with frustration and phrases that I can't get out, and they turn to poison. It's a very particular level of hell.

    As long as you have something to say, and you can, please do. It will mean something to someone, I'm sure.

  2. I enjoy reading your blog, and would miss it if you stopped.However, you certainly shouldn't feel any pressure to carry on with it if you don't want to.

    I don't know any of these people, or anything about your relationships with them, beyond what you've written here. That said, they don't seem to me to be behaving much like good friends.

    I had a similar sort of bust-up with a dear friend of mine a couple of years ago. It was an online argument about politics, something we're both passionate about, and where we have quite different views. It was distressing, but we worked through it with the help of a mutual friend and managed to put it all behind us.

    I don't think any reasonable person could draw the conclusions these people drew from your blogpost- but then, none of us is entirely reasonable all the time. Friends need to be able to disagree about things, and should make a real effort to discuss and deal with any offence that might have been caused or taken. That effort might not always prove fruitful, but anyone who flatly refuses to attempt it doesn't fit my idea of a friend.

    I'm sorry this has happened to you.

  3. I'll just echo the others -- the post-a-day, intense commitment you've displayed is admirable, impressive and has contributed positively to my life. I'd like to see you continue. I wouldn't like you to feel pressured to do so, but ceteris paribus do continue!

    As for the loss of friends -- well, what those two people wrote was not written with very much insight or sensitivity -- and certainly not in the good faith of free and fair debate. They weren't being good friends, as far as I can tell. The person today seemed to be doing classic boundary work: 'you can't talk about this issue unless you repeat our position'. And very ungenerously at that. Those aren't conversation I'd be interested in having, personally. But I think given the topics you cover here, which include feminism and environmentalism, it's an occupational hazard that you'll encounter political rather than intellectual push-back. (And politics tends to get personal!)

    Prof Bradley was a great thinker and great instructor. I think he'd be proud to see you engaging doggedly with this range of important topics and with complete openness to your interlocutors. What he taught me was that philosophical rigor was a dignified and necessary part of our shared world, not some obscurantist pursuit and certainly not secondary to politics.

  4. Academia is a highly opinionated field. You're bound to make enemies. Don't be discouraged.

    If the blog means something to you, do it. If not, quit.